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School board candidates go head to head

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday October 09, 2002

Board of Education members Shirley Issel and Terry Doran traded jabs with four challengers over the school district’s financial management and high school reform efforts during a debate at Berkeley High School Monday night. 

Candidate Nancy Riddle, chief financial officer for Monster Cable of Brisbane, suggested that the board, which slashed millions last year and still faces a $3.9 million budget shortfall this year, has taken a haphazard approach to cuts. 

She said members must demand detailed budgets and a range of cost-cutting options rather than “highly summarized budgets” and a few recommendations for cuts from the superintendent’s office. 

Riddle also said the board needs to engage in long-term financial planning, rather than year-to-year cuts, if it hopes to get out of a constant cycle of financial crises. 

But Doran said the board has made important strides toward solving the district’s financial woes. 

“We are now, I believe, on the road to financial solvency,” he said, noting that the board has replaced most of the district’s top management in the past year and put a new data processing system in place that, he argued, will help the district erase the $3.9 million budget shortfall. 

Derick Miller, president of the PTA Council, an umbrella group for all the PTAs in the district, said the board should put an independent, internal auditor in place to watch the books. 

“We need good information,” he said. 

“I disagree that an [internal] auditor is going to help us,” Issel replied, arguing that annual audits by outside firms have pointed to district problems in the past. She said “capable leadership” on the board is the best way to steer the district out of its financial straits. 

The most pointed fiscal criticism came from physician and candidate Lance Montauk, who used a series of yard sticks to illustrate what he deemed out-of-whack spending priorities in the district. 

“I want to show you where these people have been spending your money,” he said, arguing that the district spends too much on administrative salaries and not enough on teachers and books. “I think it’s shameful.” 

Montauk also took a strong stand against Measure K, which will appear on the November ballot. Passage would increase school board members’ monthly salaries from $875 to $1,500. 

Supporters say the raise, which would come from city coffers, is long overdue and argue that board members could divert the increase to pay for a low-cost, likely part-time staffer. The board currently has no staff to conduct research or answer constituents’ calls. 

Montauk suggested that members do not deserve a raise given the current state of the district. 

Candidates also raised concerns about the shift from a seven- to a six-period day at the high school this year. Miller said the move has limited student choices and hasn’t saved the district a significant amount of money. 

“Making change without thinking carefully... is pretty stupid,” he said. “But we’ve been doing a lot of this lately.” 

Miller, who warned against the shift to a six-period day last year, called for greater community input in future budget-cutting decisions.  

District officials and school board members have long contended that last year was a special case because the district did not learn about the extent of its budget woes until January and had to move quickly on cuts. They say the public process will improve this year. 

The six candidates who took part in the Monday night debate, sponsored by the Berkeley High School Parent Teacher Student Association and the League of Women Voters, are vying for three slots on the five-member board. 

Candidate Sean Dugar, who graduated from Berkeley High last year, said he would bring youth to the board, appoint more community advisory committees and boost the high school’s ethnic studies programs. 


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